What is love?
“What is love? Baby don’t hurt, don’t hurt me, no more”, Haddaway, 1993.
Somehow, many of us grow up with the idea that love is supposed to hurt. For people in my generation, Disney set up a quite dramatic stereotype, where women are helpless princesses incapable of defending themselves on their own and need to be always rescued by a prince charming. These stories also set a standard that along the path of falling in love there should be suffering, constant gaslighting, and rejection; and that basically men and women need to suffer when loving someone. Basically, they represented only relationships between people with anxious and avoidant attachment styles. The problem with this is that many of us grew up thinking that this is how romantic (and even non-romantic) relationships are supposed to be.
If we also analyze the lyrics of songs of the 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s, and beyond, many are about how love hurts, and how one of the persons in the couple should give it all to the point of losing themselves in the relationship. Let’s not even think about the movies of the same decades (even if I enjoy watching the films around the 80s because of the aesthetics), where someone in the couple (typically the man) will cheat on the partner, abuse them, be aggressive towards them, gaslight them, but after some grand gesture, everything would be forgiven and forgotten.
I also have spoken to friends and people around about how they saw the relations of their parents (I include here also one of my life-givers), apparently, no matter which country they were in, relationships were based (more or less) on the same premise: women needed to be submissive to the husbands and give it all on behalf of the partner and children. At the same time, men were meant to provide and be the decision-makers at home.
For Mexican couples (I hope not to these days still) it was very common to have a macho husband, with a wife, a side lover, many children inside and outside the marriage, and a wife who was meant to stand all that. There is even a saying that older people use for this, they would say to an unhappy wife “Es tu cruz” (translates to “He’s your cross”), making reference to the biblical scene of Christ carrying a cross on his back for the good of mankind, such a martyr way of living.
In Germany, over the last 20 years, the divorce rate has an average of approximately 40%, and it’s similar for developed countries around the world. There are many reasons to speculate why, among which could be that in developed countries the education is higher and people feel secure enough to take the step into divorce, but I’m more of the opinion that in modern society, we live under so much stress and in a rush all the time, that our relationships are a reflection of this.
In this statistic (which I take with a pinch of salt), authors claim that 70% of couples will break up within the first year of dating, this number, although, high is likely to be close to reality. Speaking only from my experience, from friends, acquaintances, and after reading posts of people on the internet, most of the couples break up just after a few months of dating, and many who stay longer struggle so much in the relationship, which often leads to break up just at a later stage.
I have only personal speculations and ideas of why this kind of phenomenon is happening. Going back to the idea of a relationship that’s Disney-like, maybe this is what has been hurting us and putting us in the place of pursuing the perfect relationship, even if it’s completely subconscious. At least, I know that for the most part of my youth, I had a very twisted idea of how relationships were supposed to be (and it was totally subconscious), it wasn’t just because of the society I grew up in, it was what TV and movies were showing, what my friends would be experiencing, the thing is that I wasn’t even aware that there was a kind of relationship I was repeating. It wasn’t until my 30s that I changed my ideals, I started to go deeper on understanding myself, my values, my attachment type (strongly recommend reading the book), what I want from life, how I see life, and what is important to me, and then I started to look differently at couples. The funny thing, growing up I felt these kinds of “butterflies on the stomach” when meeting someone new, but after understanding many things, I realized that those physical feelings were actually a survival mechanism of my body to prevent me from something odd, so, a piece of advice to those who are in “anxious mode” regularly: if your gut gets nervous on the relationship, listen to it!
I can only reflect on how different I feel in my current relationship: it’s not that I never felt insecure, but it was that when I came forward to my partner about it he understood it and reassured me instead of denying it or making trouble out of it. We never avoided having difficult conversations since the beginning, instead, we always approached them with a curious ear from both sides, there was never any kind of “games” of who wrote first or more, we both reached each other as much as we wanted, respecting the limits of the other; and I think one of the most valuable things we had is our “agile” approach. We have a retro every week (no skipping) where we sit with a cup of coffee, tea, or whatever drink, ideally, we go somewhere to distract ourselves but we also do it sometimes at home, where we dedicate about an hour just to talk of how do we felt during the past week, if something upset us or made us happy, if there was something stressing us, or basically anything that is related to our inner selves and it’s not part of the daily household chores let’s say. Over time, this has proven to help us keep a space for regular communication, which in long-term relationships is given for granted but rarely respected; it has also helped us to not suppress feelings or resentments along the way since there is always some special time where we can talk about them.
Photo: Communication tube from movie ASSA
Perhaps, another thing that changed for me is how I approach and allow to be approached when having differences. I call it the “no drama, anxious llama” approach. When a conflict arises, we let it cool down, and we have a calm convo about it afterward, without thinking the other person is trying to hurt the other or doing it on purpose. But I can only say, that this has worked because my partner is also a calm and quiet kind of person, that appreciates the opportunity just to sit and talk. However, in the past, when someone started to lose it, yelling and taking the opportunity to create some drama, it became a red flag for me and a great opportunity to say goodbye.
There is something that has also been helpful over the years, when getting in the loop of the toxic behavior, nothing works better than having a second pair of eyes seeing it and giving an outside honest opinion; sometimes, it has been a good friend of mine, but oftentimes it has been my therapist. The hardest here is to learn to NEVER IGNORE THE RED FLAGS that arise when dating someone, which is a completely different area of self-development. Listening to your inner self is a thing that becomes normal when you’re healing it over time because you learn to trust yourself.
In spite of all the difficulties, we humans keep pursuing love, we put ourselves out there even after our heart has been broken, even after we felt consistent pain within a relationship (sometimes even trauma); we are nothing but social living beings that have a need to feel companionship, caring and be part of something. Science has also supported the idea of having love in our lives as part of something beneficial (I suggest looking out there for more research on the topic, there is a lot), but I can only imagine (also have experienced myself) that the benefits of an improved immune system, less stress and even better sleep come only when we are in a healthy and happy relationship. This means that seeking our soulmate, whatever form it has (couple, friend, pet, etc.) definitely worth the rocky road.